September 26, 2021
XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Last Sunday, we looked closely at one of the temptations that resides in the heart of the disciples: the temptation of power, of wanting to be considered great, to be first (Mk 9:34).
In today’s Gospel passage we find another: it’s the temptation not only to be first, but to be the one and only.
On the way to Jerusalem, while Jesus instructs His disciples on the mystery of His passion and death, the disciples see someone exercising a power in the name of Jesus, and they want to stop him.
The motivation is important: “Master, we saw one who was casting out demons in your name and we wanted to stop him, because he does not follow us” (Mk 9:38).
Therefore, what annoys the disciples is that this man, who cast out demons, did not follow them; who therefore he did not recognize their authority, did not ask their authorization.
Jesus, responding, immediately moves the center of gravity of following and puts it back in its place: following is not to follow the disciples, but to follow, together with the disciples, the one and only Master; no one can put themselves in His place, not even those who presume to have arrived first.
Therefore, anyone is welcome, and the only entranceway to belong to the group of disciples is that of living in the name of Jesus, the sole raison d’etre, the only reference for those who belong to Him. And it is just around Him that the group of disciples can find unity and cohesion.
Today’s scriptural passage continues with two other elements: the first linked to welcome (Mk 9:41), and the second to scandal (Mk 9:42-48).
The question that we raise is to ask ourselves if there is a connection between the three parts, or if they are sayings of Jesus collected here by the evangelist Mark.
A clue can be gleaned from the word “prevent”, which occurs two times in the first part: the disciples feel in the right to prevent, to put a barrier, an obstacle. It is an attitude that closely resembles the rebuke Jesus makes to the Pharisees: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who close the kingdom of heaven before men; because in this way you do not enter yourselves, nor do you even allow entrance to those trying to enter” (Mt 23:13). Sometimes, it happens that those who should act as guides, to encourage the way to enter the Kingdom, are precisely the ones who prevent it.
The term scandal, which we find repeated several times in the third part of the Gospel, is exactly this attitude: scandal is the impediment, the obstacle, the stumbling block; which blocks me on the way and impedes the journey.
And what threatens to act as an obstacle to the journey of the little ones, of those who approach the community of the disciples, is not so much the limit they find in the community, not even the sin, but this abuse of power, this presumption of being able to say who’s inside and who’s outside.
In short, the disciples are scandalized by and resentful towards people who from the outside use the name of Jesus; but they do not realize that this way they themselves become a scandal for those who, from the outside, would like to enter in, hoping to find there welcome and equality.
For this reason a new way of looking is necessary for the disciple: the view of those who can see even in a small gesture of welcome – like the gift of a glass of water done to one who belongs to Christ – the presence of the Kingdom (Mk 9:41): it’s not hard to be of Christ.
One must therefore be watchful of one’s eyes, one’s hands, one’s feet (Mk 9:43-47) that is, of one’s entire life: to be far away from scandal, to be healed from the inability to see the presence of the Kingdom, from the temptation to hinder the journey. Hands, feet, eyes… make sense if they signpost Jesus as the only Master to follow and love. Otherwise, they have no reason to exist, and it’s better they do not exist. There is something that comes first of all, and it’s not us.
The temptation, on the contrary, of using the name of Jesus to usurp the power to decide who is worthy of His name, paradoxically puts us outside the group, makes us strangers to the Lord, far from that style of new life that He brought among us, that of not having another power except to empty oneself out of love for the life of every little child.
To go up to Jerusalem together with the Lord, therefore, it’s necessary to take another step: and that is to begin to consider ourselves brothers alongside other brothers, all equally on the path by grace alone and mercy of the One Who, on the cross, will give life for all. And letting everyone, in the community, have their own way of living in His Name.